Saturday, September 4, 2010

The following is my humble what works for me

I feed grain to my Shetland sheep. I have had sheep for 15 years, and this is what works for me. In my Minnesota weather with bitter cold winter, I have found that feeding some grain to my Shetlands has merit. The ewe lambs and yearlings grow to a larger size--have wider pelvises for easy first time lambing. They  have better condition for motherhood and supply abundant milk for their lambs.The ewes nursing twins and trips stay in better condition.  I read that it takes the sheep rumen 3-4 weeks to utilize and properly digest grain. So feeding grain at 6 weeks before lambs are due, one month of flushing/breeding-- some days on grain is lost.  That leave a non-grain feeding period in mid- gestation of 74 days. Now consider the embryonic lose due the lower energy in those 74 days, less lambs will be born. The fleece growth replies on good nutrition and grain can help. On and off times of good feeding can cause wool breakage and poor fiber strength. So my ewes are on some grain year around. I feed 1-2# corn/oats/extruded soy bean flakes (16%) per day per ewe to nursing ewes for 3 month lactation, dry ewes on late summer pasture get 1/2 # rolled corn/oats. Flushing, breeding and gestation my ewes receive 1# of grain. Lambs are hand fed the 16% mix in a lamb creep. No my ewes are not lumbering fat, but they have good condition to meet  the demands of lactation and have an abundant milk supply for their eager lambs.
They always fresh water, loose sheep mineral and a white salt block. In winter I have a heated tub-- water stays 42*, sheep drink more which is good as their embryonic fluids is replaced 7 times a day. Routine wormings of the flock, ewes are wormed at lambing time, if its an early lamb crop, ewes are wormed again before pasture turn out, moist humid summers ewes are wormed mid season. Ewes are wormed coming off pasture which coincides with breeding time. More cost- yes, but better looking sheep and healthier lambs. When selling sheep you are also selling a feeling. Ewes in good condition and bright fresh straw (just like Grampa's) sell better and faster. Weaned lambs with some finish, well fleeced, well grown with good size, Cry "take me home". No one has ever bought a thin skinny ewe and felt good about it. We all think, "I will get her back into shape......"  I like to keep her in good shape.
We are asking more out of our sheep that in their native Shetland. We aim for 180-200% weaned lamb crop of well grown lambs, ewes that remain in the flock till 10-12yrs or more. Adequate energy/protein for abundant fleece of good crimp, good handle and reasonable length. Rolled corn is easier on the ewe's teeth than whole corn..I believe with grain supplements and good care our ewes can be productive for many years.

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